John the Apostle, Presbyter, Other
Rome, Jerusalem, Other
Date of Composition:
Origin: Greek, Syriac, Other
Nero, Nero Redivivus,
Nero Rediturus, Etc.
Origin: Christian, Christian Redaction of Jewish Apocalyptic
DATING THE BOOK OF REVELATION
In Support of the Late Date Theory
An Introduction to the Book of
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 25, pp.
April 26, 1973
Temple Terrace, Florida
The date of the writing of Revelation is
important. A number of significant points hinge on the date. The book
has been placed in the reigns of several Roman emperors including
Claudius, Nero, Trajan and Domitian. Some modern scholars have even
suggested the reign of Vespasian as the time of writing.19
The majority of expositors hold to either a date during or shortly after
the persecution of Nero, and before the destruction of Jerusalem, or to
one during the persecution by Domitian. Thus, the date would be about 69
A.D. or about 95 96 A.D. The issue is so well defined that Harrison can
say, "only these two need be considered."20 This writer sees
the weight of evidence pointing to the Domitianic date.
The Early Date
A number of the older works defend the early
(late. The most thorough defense is made by Macdonald"21 and
by Randell in The Pulpit Commentary. 22 The sobriety
with which Macdonald undertakes his task is indicated:
"A true exposition depends in no small degree,
upon a knowledge of the existing condition of things at the time it was
written; i.e., of the true point in history occupied by the writer, and
those whom he originally addressed . . . It will be found that no book
of the New Testament more abounds in passages which clearly have respect
to the time when it was written." 23
The arguments made in defense of the early date
may be summarized under eight points: (1) The Linguistic Phenomena.
This is supposed to demonstrate that Revelation was the first of the
books written by John and one of the earliest of the New Testament. The
idea is that John wrote the book of Revelation before he had learned
Greek very well. By the time he wrote the Gospel of John he knew Greek
well. This is rather interesting, but not very probable, in the light of
recent reversals on the dating of the Gospel of John. As early as the
time of Dionysius, the Greek of Revelation has been accused of being
ungrammatical." 24 Tenney comments:
"Some of the Greek in the Apocalypse seems
awkward and even ungrammatical. One should remember that the author was
attempting to put into human language scenes that could not be described
in ordinary terms; and consequently his grammar and vocabulary both
proved inadequate." 25
(2) The Doctrinal Expressions. It is said that the
Apocalypse is the link between the synoptic Gospels and the book of
John. Westcott thinks that in the evolutionary plan of revelation John
did not know nearly so much when lie wrote the book of Revelation as he
did when he wrote the Gospel of John. Hendriksen makes an appropriate
reply: "Again, as for the style, should we expect to find the same style
in a history of events (the Gospe0, a personal letter (the epistles),
and the apocalypse or unveiling (Revelation)?" 26 Certainly
one should not expect a book that is admittedly made up of signs,
symbols and visions to be put in language so plain that they become
If one were to make a comparison of the doctrinal
teaching in the alleged writings of John, he would see that in the
Gospel lie calls Jesus "the Lamb of God"; so does he in the Apocalypse.
In the Gospel and Epistles, he used the title "Logos" with reference to
the Lord; so does he in Revelation. John is the only New Testament
writer to make such a use of this word. The Gospel presents Christ as a
preexistent, eternal being. The Apocalypse does the same. Both writings
ascribe man's salvation to the sovereign grace of God anti to the blood
of Jesus Christ. The "whosoever" doctrine is found in both books. As
Hendriksen says "There are no doctrinal differences!" 27
(3) The Jews Still a Distinct People in Their
Own Land. From Revelation Seven it is argued that the twelve tribes
were still in existence in Palestine. There are, however, other
interpretations of the 144,000, which would seem to make it unnecessary
to interpret this literally as the twelve tribes.28
(4) Jerusalem and the Temple Still Standing.
It is said that Revelation Eleven, which represents the measuring of the
temple and altar, indicates that Jerusalem and the temple were still
standing. It seems entirely correct to regard this as symbolical, but as
" it seems very strange and altogether
unnatural that the apostle, in writing to churches so remote from Judea,
gathered on Gentile soil, should make use of such symbols; and still
more so if nearly or quite a generation had passed since that city with
its temple had been destroyed. " 29
The forty-two months finds a literal fulfillment
in the period from February 67 A.D., when war was declared to August 10,
70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed. 30
(5) The Sixth Roman Emperor on the Throne.
This argument is based upon Revelation Seventeen.
"Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven
heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven
kings; five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come; and
when he comes, he must remain a little while. And the beast which was
and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven, a and he
goes to destruction. " (Rev. 17: 9-11).
According to Macdonald this passage represents the
book of Revelation as being written, or at least the visions seen,
during the reign of the sixth of the emperors of Rome. Rome was built on
the seven hills. The emperors are reckoned thus: Caesar, Augustus,
Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius; these are the five who have fallen.
The one who is was Nero. The one who had not yet come and was to remain
only a little while was Galba, who reigned only seven months. "The
context of the beast which was and is not and yet is (Rev. 17:8)
strikingly describes Nero by alluding to the popular belief that, after
disappearing for a time, that emperor would reappear, as if he had risen
from the dead." 31 This is commonly spoken of as the Nero
The difficulty of this interpretation is seen when
we examine, a second interpretation. Summers does not hold the view, but
shows how one holding that Revelation was written during the reign of
Vespasian would deal with the problem. The five fallen emperors were
Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Vespasian was the one
who "is" and Titus, who ruled for only two years is the one to come for
a "little while." "The beast which was and is not, is himself also an
eighth, and is one of the seven" is said to be "Domitian, who was
pictured as the reincarnation of Nero; his was a revival of the same
type of work as that of Nero but was much more intense and widespread."32
In any similar interpretation of this question there is a big problem,
as suggested by Summers. "Are the numbers literal, and if so, with which
emperor do they start? Usually the numbers in Revelation are symbolical,
but here they appear to be literal and to serve as the author's
interpretation of his own symbol." 33
(6) Six Hundred Sixty-Six. In the first
century, it was not uncommon for numbers to be written with letters of
the alphabet, with each letter having a numerical value. The Seer
identified the number of the beast as the number of a man, not a literal
beast and not an apostate religious organization. The number was six
hundred and sixty-six (Rev. 13:18). This number has been applied, at one
time or another to such persons as Mohammed, Luther, Napoleon, the Pope,
Hitler and others. Kepler gives an example of the ingenuity that arrived
at Hitler as the identification of the number during World War 11.
34 Allowing A - 100, B - 10 1, C 102 and so on here is how it
I - 108
L - 111
E - 104
R - 117
Just why this character began his system with 100
and why he used the English alphabet is unknown.
The general consensus among scholarly commentators
is that the numbers refer to Nero Caesar. "Some take the Latin word
Neron and apply numerical equivalents for each letter in such fashion:
N - 50
E - 6
R - 500
0 - 60
N - 50"35
The final "N" can be dropped and total would be
616. Others have transliterated the Greek or Latin for Neron Caesar into
Hebrew letters and come tip with a total of 666. By omitting the final
"n" in Neron the total comes to 616. There is a slight amount of
evidence for the 616 reading. The only major manuscript which gives this
reading is Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus of the fifth century. However, as
early as Irenaeus there was some indication of this reading. Irenaeus
said that "all the most approved and ancient copies" contained the
number 666, and he gave a rather fanciful explanation as to its meaning.
In this connection he remarked:
"I do not know how it is that some have erred
following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle
number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that
instead of six decades they will have it that there is but one."
(Against Heresies V: xxx: 1.)
Some, in the day of Irenaeus, had sought out a
name, which would contain what he called "the erroneous and spurious
number." We may safely conclude that 666 is the genuine reading in this
On the basis of this identification some have said
that the book was written during the reign of Nero. This writer has no
doubt that the "beast" under consideration is the Roman Emperor. He
cannot, however, be dogmatic as to the interpretation of the number.
Even if the identification is "Nero Caesar" this would fit well into the
evidence for the late date in connection with the Nero redivivus myth
which we shall subsequently mention. It does not seem probable that a
literal identification would be given in such a highly symbolical book.
(7) Only Seven Churches in Asia at Time of
Writing. Macdonald argues from the careful mention of the seven
churches by name that these were the only ones in Asia at the time. He
cites Pliny to the effect that both Laodicea and Colossae were
overwhelmed by an earthquake in the ninth year of Nero's reign, and then
suggests that the church at Colossac was not restored; what remained
probably became identified with the one at Laodicea. 36
(8) The Judaizing Teachers Active. In favor
of the early date it has been suggested that the Jewish enemies of
Christianity, which are so evident in the book of Revelation (Rev. 2: 2,
9; 3:9), are the same and of the same period as those confronted by Paul
in his labors.37
Randell argues negatively "the clear and positive
external testimony against it (the early date) is not strong." 38
He narrows the external evidence down to the statement by Irenaetis,
which we shall deal with subsequently.
NOTE: If you have an interest in the book of
Revelation you will enjoy studying the author's new book on THE OLD
TESTAMENT IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION. It is available from the Truth
19. J. W. Bowman, "Book of Revelation," The
Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible", ed. G. A. Buttrick
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), IV, p. 60.
20. Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the
New Testament (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964),
21. James M. Macdonald, The Life and Writings
of St. John (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1877), pp. 15t-172.
22. T. Randell, "The Revelation of St. John the
Divine," The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co.. 1950). Vol. 22. pp. ii-vi.
23. Macdonald, 151, 152.
24. See also B. F. Westcott, The Gospel
According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co., 1954), pp. lxxxiv - lxxxvii.
25. Merrill C. Tenny, The New Testament: A
Survey Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., t9541, p. 403.
26. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949), p.18
27. Ibid., 19.
28. For example: H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of
St. John (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954).
Swete interprets the 1_44,000 as "the whole church." p. 99.
29. Macdonald, t59.
30. Ibid., 160.
31. Ibid., 164.
32. Summers, 81.
34. Thomas Kepler, The Book of Revelation (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 147.
35. Ibid., 1,48.
36. Macdonald, 154-155.
38. Randell, iv